Representation, Bicameralism, and Sortition: With Application to the Canadian Senate

Although representative democracy is today almost universally associated with competitive elections, for the ancient Greeks, elections were associated with aristocracy; democracy was associated with sortition. Some contemporary representative democracies choose juries by lot, but none choose their country’s political representatives in this way. An increasing number of contemporary political scientists and philosophers, however, have argued that elements of sortition would remedy many of the recognized defects afflicting electoral representative governments. In particular, sortition has been hailed as a way to enhance descriptive representation (mirroring the population at large); prevent corruption; mitigate domination by economic elites; mitigate elite-level conflict; ensure fairness and respect for the equality of all citizens in the political process; enhance deliberation; and enhance responsiveness to diverse points of view and interests. But sortition also gives rise to potential worries, concerning accountability; the responsiveness of representatives to societal interests; the proper relation between elected and non-elected assemblies; federalism; the social ontology presupposed by sortition; and differences between Athenian and contemporary society and politics.
This workshop will bring together social scientists and philosophers with two aims: critically to evaluate our theoretical and empirical knowledge of the relative merits and defects of using sortition to select representatives to the second legislative chamber of bicameral representative democracies like Canada; and to contribute to public debate in Canada about Senate reform by evaluating the desirability of reconstituting the Senate as a randomly selected Citizen Assembly. Any overall evaluation must be implicitly comparative, relative to alternatives such as abolishing the second chamber, electing its members, or appointing them (the Canadian status quo). Canada is an ideal setting for this debate: Senate reform is a topic of recurrent debate, and Canada is already a pioneer in experimenting with randomly selected deliberative bodies. (British Columbia and Ontario used randomly selected citizen assemblies to propose an alternative voting system for provincial elections).

Workshop format: The workshop comprises three closed sessions capped by a public forum. Sessions 1 and 2 will each begin with a presentation, based on a pre-circulated paper, making the case for using sortition to select representatives, such as to a second legislative chamber. Each presentation will be followed by two formal critiques emphasizing the problems with sortition. Session 3, “A Randomly Selected Senate?” will begin with a presentation, based on a pre-circulated paper, and in light of the specifically Canadian context of federalism and its history of bicameralism, laying out the case for reconstituting the Senate as a randomly selected Citizen Assembly. Finally, Session 4 will comprise a public forum in the form of a “policy Dragon’s Den” in which a panel of critics will grill two proponents pitching the Senate idea before a large audience.

Registration is required for the workshop (but not the public form). To register, please click here. Please note that registration is limited. You will receive a confirmation of your registration or indication that you have been placed on the wait list via email.


Friday December 9, 2016
New Chancellor Day Hall, McGill University

9:00-10:30: Case for Sortition I
Chair: James Kelly (Political Science, Concordia)
Paper: Peter Stone (Political Science, Trinity) Read the paper here*: stone-can-sortition-save-democracy-2016-12-02-pp
Critiques: Dominique Leydet (Philosophy, UQAM) & Jacob Levy (Political Science, McGill)

11:00-12:30pm: Case for Sortition II
Chair: Christa Scholtz (Political Science, McGill)
Paper: Alex Guerrero (Philosophy, Rutgers) Read the paper here*: guerrero-sane-political-institutions-pp
Critiques: Arthur Lupia (Political Science, Michigan) & John Aldrich (Political Science, Duke)

2:00-3:30pm: Canadian Senate as Randomly Selected Citizen Assembly
Chair: Ruth Dassonneville (Political Science, UdeMontreal)
Paper: Arash Abizadeh (Political Science, McGill) Read the paper here*: abizadeh-representation-bicameralism-sortition-pp
Critiques: Lori Turnbull (Political Science, Dalhousie) & Peter Loewen (Political Science, Toronto)

4:00-6:00pm: Public Forum on Reconstituting the Canadian Senate as a Randomly Selected Citizen Assembly (no registration required)

*Password protected, for workshop attendees only

This event is co-sponsored by: the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, 
Research Group on Constitutional Studies (RGCS) of the Yan P. Lin Centre & Groupe de recherche en philosophie politique de Montréal (Gripp)